Every February, Speak Up Newport hosts the annual Mayor’s Dinner, an event attended by 450 dignitaries and community members that features the State of the City address.
This year, Speak Up Newport announced that the 40th annual Mayor’s Dinner scheduled for Feb. 5 had been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions and will be rescheduled for later in the year.
However, in keeping with the tradition of a February State of the City address, Mayor Brad Avery delivered his remarks via a Zoom webinar held on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
In a talk show format hosted by Speak Up Newport Board of Directors President Ed Selich (himself a former Mayor of Newport Beach), Mayor Avery talked about his background, the current state of the city, and his goals for 2021.
Avery began by explaining that his family originally lived in Pasadena, but every weekend would drive to Newport Beach and the Balboa Yacht Club, where he developed a love for sailing.
“My life has been boats and sailing, and what better place than Newport Harbor,” said Avery. “I learned to love the harbor. I graduated from Newport Harbor High School, from there went sailing as a professional all over the world for three years, came back and went to Orange Coast College and transferred to USC, where I got a degree in Journalism and Communications.”
Avery eventually got a second degree in public administration, but stated he had no desire or interest at the time to go into politics or city government. Instead, he went to work at OCC and ran the school’s sailing program. He recently retired after 40 years at OCC.
“It was a terrific experience,” said Avery. “Prior to retiring, I was on the harbor commission. Then Duffy encouraged me to run for city council, and I won my race. I have enjoyed my experience on the council, I am glad to do it. It’s engaging on all levels, learning how the city works, how staff works. The complexity is really something.”
“What changes have you seen in Newport Beach over the years,” asked Selich.
“This is a city of builders,” replied Avery. “It’s an aspirational city, people who come here are successful, which coalesces in a lot of input to the city’s culture. I don’t see growth as a bad thing, but it can be if it’s not done in a rational way.”
“What motivated you to run for city council,” asked Selich.
“With my experience on the harbor commission, I really enjoyed it. It added greatly to my perception, so my outlook on city government has changed. Decisions are not easy. We need to do the best job we can and respond to needs, provide a place where families can call home. And you have to have your council with you, working together. Every council member brings a unique perspective. I really enjoy the process.”
“The last year has been a tough year,” noted Selich. “Covid has wreaked havoc. How has the city handled Covid?”
“The city has done a good job,” replied Avery. “It was like getting hit by a truck. When it hit, it put us in crisis mode. Our businesses were severely threatened. We had to close the beaches. It was really a challenge for the council, but we are a unique city, I think we navigated it pretty well.”
“With Covid, a lot of businesses in town got hit pretty hard, and the city council came up with a grant and loan program,” said Selich. “How did that go?”
“It went well, although not everyone got a grant,” responded Avery. “It was available to everyone but you had to fill out the form and go through the hoops. Overall we did a good job. We were committed to doing what we could for small businesses.”
“The city had a goal setting meeting. What can you tell us about the city budgets?” asked Selich.
“We get so much from property tax, it’s very steady, that has shored us up,” said Avery. “Our trans occupancy tax has suffered, but sales tax has been better than expected. In the last budget cycle, we had a $30 million reduction in the budget, which delayed capital projects, building projects, neighborhood projects.”
Avery noted that there are still public works projects on the books that have been deferred, but still the city is strong, stated Avery.
Avery went on to explain that the new Lido fire station will be coming online, and was a sorely needed project as the old fire station was 60 years old.
“It’s a $10 million project and we have the money to pay for it, but finance recommended this would be a smart time to borrow money and keep the cash in reserve,” said Avery. “It will be a great community member, it’s location will have a big presence.”
Avery also said the library lecture hall is in the works, as is the Balboa Island project to redo the draining, and the junior lifeguard headquarters.
Selich asked about the Housing element, and Avery replied that “we are under the gun with that deadline. We have engaged the city and met with residents to determine where the extra bousing should go. Each council district has been able to weigh in. We are looking at West Newport, Newport Coast, the airport.”
Bottom line, said Avery, is that Newport Beach intends to comply with the state mandate.
Other topics discussed by Avery included code enforcement on the boardwalk and on the harbor, harbor dredging (“Once the dredging is done it will be good for decades to come”), and traffic, specifically Mariners’ Mile.
“A lot of residents are not happy about this large development on the land that has been underdeveloped for 50 years,” said Avery. “There will be some widening of Coast Highway to add deceleration lanes to allow for development to have safe exits and safe approaches. There is no effort on the length of Coast Highway, but widening to facilitate these projects.”
As to the homelessness issue in Newport Beach, Avery said that “we have a deal with Costa Mesa, a $2 million deal, not just for beds but services—solutions and management of our homeless situation. It’s something we really need to do. We need to build a permanent facility for people who are experiencing homelessness. We need to help them, It’s our civic duty.”
Selich noted that John Wayne Airport is always an issue, and Avery stated that the city has preserved the current curfew.
“I hear the planes every morning,” said Avery. “We need to protect the agreements we have and allow no backsliding, at the risk of end around runs in terms of noise and flight patterns.”
“Do you have any personal goals as Mayor?” asked Selich.
“I am concerned with the marina and the quality of development. I do not see what I can get done in one year, but I want to be part of the discussion. I want to help the homeless situation, it’s a moral issue for us, especially a community like this that has so much. I am behind the harbor dredging, it’s critical to the health of the harbor. We need a deep harbor or the navigation becomes difficult.”
Selich asked Avery where he saw the city 20 years from now.
“It will be bigger. Every day there is square footage being built in Newport Beach. The Planning Department is processing all the time. Newport Beach is successful, what better place to build than here. Success builds success We will see more traffic, but we’re not a no growth town and we have to accept this. We need to maintain parks, maintain beach, and public spaces. Newport Center will change drastically over 20 years, we’ll see more residents there, entertainment venues. We’re always reinventing ourselves.”
Avery concluded his remarks by stating that “Newport Beach has a bright future. We’re a phenomenal town. It’s an honor to be on the council, and to be Mayor.”
To watch a video of the complete State of the City address, visit http://www.speakupnewport.com/state-of-the-city-2021.